What it means to be an ‘unsuccessful’ band in the 21st Century

 

Morning all

 

I’ve been meaning to write a blog like this for some time but a few things have stopped me in the past.

 

Firstly, I don’t want this to come across as ‘moany-musician-moans-about-no-one-liking-his-moany-band-with-moany-songs’ It’s a horrible tone and something that I wouldn’t want to read myself. I’m extremely proud of everything we’ve achieved in The B of the Bang – the gigs we’ve played, the material we’ve released, the days/nights/laughs/tears we’ve all shared have been, and will continue to be, some of the greatest times of my life. The band has already achieved more than we ever intended….

 

Secondly, these views are entirely my own. Often they are only half formed too. Everything I say/think/do is open to debate and I’m constantly surprising myself to find that I disagree with my own opinions quite often. How does that work? I’m not sure. The highs of playing a great gig on a decent stage to a responsive audience are counteracted with playing the Cock and Balls in Durham after a 5 hour drive to precisely no-one and I’m quite certain that this ying-yang lifestyle affects the brain. Who said bi-polar? Quiet you….

 

Sooooooooo……

 

Why am I writing this? Well – recently I’ve been thinking about our wee band and the context in which it nestles an awful lot. What it means? What’s it for? Does it matter anymore…(just a little rhyme there for you…you can have that for free…)

 

Anyway, I’ve come to the following conclusions….

 

1)    Honesty is all that matters.

 

Many people moan about ‘music not being as good as it used to be’. Those people have no ears. I can safely say that most of my favourite bands have only formed in the last 5 years or so.

 

Of course there will be artists from your formative musical experiences and teenage years of youthful reckless abandonment that will always hold a very special place in your heart – I’m looking at you Idlewild – BUT there is such an extraordinary wealth of innovative, inspiring and groundbreaking artists around at the mo that unless you only listen to the seemingly-aimed-at 6-year-olds Radio 1 of late then you’d be mental to ignore. I’m thinking of Nils Frahm & Olafur Arnalds, of Efterklang, of Wild Beasts, of No Age, of I Break Horses, Bat for Lashes, Bon Iver, Beirut and Borko…and with all of them I get the impression that they are making the music they want to make. Whether they are making it poppier for a wider appeal or more avant-garde for beard-rubbing tosspots like me it still sounds entirely honest. Entirely like the artist themselves.

 

Some bands, however, my silly addled mind doesn’t seem to let get away with it quite so easily and I’m not sure why….at this juncture I’m thinking of now globe-straddling bands such as Kings of Leon, Muse, The Killers et al. Great early albums (and I’m sure they don’t give a toss about my opinion…) but all have become sort of irrelevant to me. Not disliked, just not interested. That’s not to say I don’t still enjoy humming along on the radio, I just wouldn’t go buy their latest records. Whereas someone like Biffy Clyro, for some reason I think, fair play lads…go for it, make your chorus’ bigger. WHY BRAIN? WHY? I’m as unaware as you but…just being honest.

 

2) I love music. I do not love all the bullshit that goes with it.

 

When you read those generally terrible (though there are a few good’uns) ‘HOW TO MAKE IT IN MUSIC’ type books – we’ve all had a look – I disagree with so much of what is said. Most of it is the stuff that says to be SUCCESSFUL you have to treat your music like a BUSINESS and think about who it is MARKETED at, think about how you are MARKETED, think about…..and I can barely bring myself to say this word….NETWORKING…..urghhhh…

 

I guess it comes down to your interpretation of the word ‘success.’ I’ll generalise and say ‘success’ to most bands would be playing gigs to 1000s of loving fans who part with their hard earned cash to lap up all your merch then…yes…in a ideal world we’d love to be there. We would snap it up in a heartbeat. But, having spoken to a few musicians who are in those kind of slightly dodgy indie-pop bands that we sneer at, they are generally decent, nice folks who have good music taste but they know what works and what ‘the mass public’ want to hear. It’s a fine and easily fuck-uppable line to walk. No-one has ever said to us ‘you should make that catchier’ or ‘put in a few more chorus and take out the weird time signatures’ which I know a few bands who have had that and, as a result, I feel we’ve earned our own level of success. When we play live, hopefully a few folk will come along and a few folk will maybe feel they’d like to hear us again so grab an album or come to our next gig. Can’t really grumble with that.

 

I guess the schmoozing/emailing/PRing are all valid and necessary avenues if you want to climb the ladder but they do sometimes feel dangerously close to being the equivalent of the office goody goody impressing the boss by staying late for unpaid overtime. Bands at our level will often put things in their press release saying ‘unaminous critical acclaim’ and ‘eagerly awaited’. We do it. But it’s not like the critical acclaim came from Pitchfork, Drowned in Sound and NME. It was the drummers nan and the old man at the bar with 2 hearing aids. I’m lucky in that I work in a music studio and get paid already to do something I love and I tell you right now. I’d rather be tinkering around with the modular synthesisers we have than analyzing our Soundcloud statistics. Maybe that’s where we’re going wrong….which leads me to my next point…

 

3)    Music is entertainment, not ‘entertainment’

 

This is possibly the hardest point to make myself clear on. Probably because I’m not really sure of my own feelings on the subject anymore. It was easy growing up – you knew Radiohead wouldn’t sell their songs to adverts cos that was ‘wrong maaaaan’. But they were happy to take EMI’s dosh for a long long time and play the O2 this year for 70 sheets a ticket (I’m not bitter cos I couldn’t afford to go….much). I can’t think of anything that rises the bile so much as that terrible car advert at the mo with that annoying looking bunch absolutely massacring ‘Ever Fallen In Love’ by The Buzzcocks (one of our greatest ever pop songs). Or that awful hair-care one with that lass singing in her bedroom whilst explaining how to get rid of unwanted frizz. I can’t write about it anymore. It’s making my eye twitch.

 

So what do I mean then? Well, yes, music is entertainment. I go to gigs to be entertained, I hope when we play that we entertain people. But the important thing to remember here is that it is really a by-product of the witnessing of the music creation itself. To quote that horrible old music-hack classic: A band makes music for itself and if anyone else likes it…I can’t even bring myself to finish the sentence but you know what I’m saying. Lots of folks say it. Only some mean it.

 

I don’t think (in the words of Thom Yorke…I might be wrong…) that Nick Drake would have been sending out Facebook updates asking for ‘likes’ or that John Coltrane would have stayed up late formulating his next move in the blogosphere. He’d’ve been too off his tits. Saying that, Bob Dylan’s even doing status updates now so what do I know? I’m not particularly a fan of social media (I don’t care what you’re having for lunch unless I’m actually out with you…) but I realise that they are powerful tools and we’d be foolish to ignore them as a band. Just don’t expect ridiculously banal tweets. I’m having a ham sandwich with garlic Philadelphia for lunch by the way….

 

Recently, at Iceland Airwaves festival, I noticed just how many people had their camera phones on them all the time. Not just once or twice, but for a whole gig. Photographers snapping away without a care for anyone else, right in the middle of quietest passage during a beautiful bit of hushed piano. It made me want to place their cameras in a place that might need a good flash to get a picture. Don’t get me wrong – I might take one or two pics during a bands set, usually betwixt songs because….and get this…..I WANT TO ACTUALLY WATCH THE GIG. Be there in the moment. Enjoy the band. Listen to the music. Remember when that used to happen? I don’t care that you’re putting it up on Youtube in 5 minutes. Wait for the DVD to come out, film that, then put that up. Fools.

 

4)    Integrity is key

 

I guess this ties in with the honesty thing. The B of the Bang has been chuntering on (is that a word?) in various guises for about 5 years now. The first year was just myself messing about with a couple of crappy guitars and dodgy samplers. Then it changed into the ever-evolving collective with many different super talented members every gig for a couple of years. That was great fun but very hard to maintain. Finally, during the last 2 years it has become what you might call, a ‘proper’ band. One that, I might add, has been an unresrved joy to be a part of (mostly). To look back at what we have achieved and, more importantly, looking forward to what we can still achieve is a source of great pride to me. All of these manifestations have felt completely natural; none of it has been forced. Our second album (if it ever comes out – it’s been finished for ruddy ages…) is a collection of songs that I’m extremely proud of and I can confidently say are the best thing we’ve ever committed to tape/hard-drive. I listen back to our first album now and there’s some good stuff and not so good stuff on there – but that’s how it should be. A snapshot of that period of time in our lives. I wouldn’t change a thing about it.

 

Folks (generally acquaintances or older family members) will sometimes casually say such horrors as ‘why don’t you go on X Factor?’ or ‘you should do some covers that everyone knows?’ I think most people in bands get asked this from time to time. Personally, I don’t have anything against those kind of shows. At least they’re pretty honest in their exploitation. It’s not about music in the slightest. Pure entertainment. Although when it involves often extremely naïve or unstable young people, that’s not on. So I guess I do have something against them. That and they’re shit.

 

And the covers thing? I did it once for about 2 weeks. I really admire people who can switch off their cringe-factor (idea for a new talent show…Cringe Factor…) as mine seems to be tuned extremely high. Someone mentioned we do ‘Mercy’ by Duffy and I almost threw myself into the Solent. Obviously I have a very low gag reflex. But as I am reliably informed, even Robert Johnson covered popular ditties of the time in front of the local market. However, he irresponsibly sold his soul to the Devil so what does he know eh?

 

There you go. My thoughts on a few things. Some may not be right. Some may be hazily explained. But that’s tough titties. I love playing live. I love creating sounds in the recording studio. I love discovering new music. I love listening to old music. I don’t like having to deal with unprofessional, un-courteous, impolite people or close-minded fools. I think right now our band is hitting a rich vein of form and I’m writing the best music of my life. I guess I have to be happy with that as most of it will never see the light of day. Is that enough for me?

 

In the slightly bastardized words from Goodnight Mr Tom when the excellent John Thaw is asked ‘is love enough?’ (and for ‘love’ here, replace with ‘music’. They’re the same thing to my mind.) He staunchly replies:

 

‘I guess it’ll have to be, in this day and age’.

 

Wit

Xxx

 

 

Ps I’ve never even been to Durham. Let alone played ‘The Cock and Balls’ public house. I apologise. You get the drift….

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Albums of 2011 (and gigs…)

Ahhhhh a list. Love em or hate em. I personally love em…whether they be shopping, bucket or Schindler’s. People get so irate over end-of-year lists don’t they? They say ‘HOW DARE YOU RATE THE WANTED OVER NICKI MINAJ!!!  (check me out…i’m down with the hep cats…) YOU MUST BE MENTALLY UNBALANCED!!!’ Well, don’t take this list too seriously as my mind changes as often as a member of the Sugababes…this is just what I think in this particular moment at this exact point in time (10.48AM GMT, Monday 28th November 2011).

Also…for your records, this is Wit writing…hello. I don’t want you to exact revenge on one of the other GangBangers just because i’ve placed X higher than Y. That just wouldn’t be on. Unless it’s Jack. Cos his list would be awful.

So…mince pie in hand, Bailey’s poured, fire crackling….let’s begin.

…oh by the way – i’m doing a top 15…just because I want to…

15) Radiohead – The King of Limbs

Shock! Horror! A Radiohead record has been released and it’s not my number one! These truly are end times! Well the truth is that, although there’s some good stuff on there…it’s just not top 10 material. Codex is lovely though. Like Thom’s dance moves.

14) DELS – Gob

My hip-hop knowledge is not as sharp as it might be but I know what’s good and this is ruddy good. (ps my first ever band when I was 13 was a comedy rap band with my brother and I used to listen to his Pete Rock & CL Smooth and Lords of the Underground CD’s quite a lot….does this make me more street? No? Oh.)

13) Josh T Pearson – Last of the Country Gentlemen

I haven’t had very long with this record so, over time, I’d imagine this would place much higher…on the first few listens though it is indeed splendid and has introduced me to the wonderous Lift to Experience so that’s nice…

12) Roddy Woomble – The Impossible Song

Long time BangFans will know of my worrying man-love for young Roddy…ever since his early Idlewild days he can do nowt wrong in my eyes and this album is a joy. So that’s nice too…

11) Elbow – Build A Rocket Boys!

Another cracking record from everyones favourite angel-voiced plumbers…in other years this would probably be higher on the list but personally I think 2011 has been an exceptional year for musical releases. So there. I’m sure Elbow aren’t too fussed. I would like to try their ale though.

10) The Antlers – Burst Apart

Critics darlings but for once completely justified. A beautiful record though not quite as wondrous as ‘Hospice’ so just edging into my top 10…I would like to see these live please. As Jim can no longer Fix It for me i’m asking Santa.

9) The Duke Spirit – Bruiser

I love Leila Moss and her band. That is all.

8) Beirut – The Rip Tide

More marvellous merriment from Monsieur Condon and co. Managed to get a gorgeous see-through vinyl of it too. Does that matter? OF COURSE IT DOES.

7) Patrick Wolf – Lupercalia

He’s got some lungs on him this lad. ‘House’ is one of my pop songs of the year too. Not just because it shares a name with a certain medical series about a miserable genius that i’m semi-obsessed with.

6) St Vincent – Strange Mercy

Probably the freshest thing to grace my ears for some time. Amazing guitarist she is n’all. Well done Annie.

5) PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

Not really getting why people have said this album is love or hate – it’s Polly Jean at her finest in my ears. I also love ‘White Chalk’ though and lots of folk don’t care for that. Those people are called idiots.

4) Wild Beasts – Smother

To be honest, my top 5 are completely interchangeable. This would deffo sit easily and proudly as my fave album of the year but, perhaps because I’ve listened to it so very very much, today it’s at 5. Sorry lads. I STILL LOVE YOU!!!!

3) Bon Iver – s/t

See above. Amazing stuff. Even the 80’s power ballad. ESPECIALLY the 80’s power ballad.

2) Metronomy – The English Riviera

Caught me by surprise this’n. Having seen em a few times and heard their earlier stuff I was always left a bit underwhelmed but this album is nigh on perfection. It also contains one of the best pop songs ever in ‘The Look’. That keyboard solo at the end…yes….

…and DRUM ROLL PLEASE…..

1) Bjork – Biophillia

Just astounding. May mean more to me because of seeing her perform it live in Iceland this year (on my 30th birthday too..) but it’s an absolutely amazing piece of work. Not just in the innovative way it was released, the app’s, the bizarre instruments and her top notch wig. The songs themselves are also 1st class. And after all boys n girls…that’s what it’s all about innit?

So…there you go. My Albums of 2011. As I say I can’t speak for the others (though I dare say Rhodesy would have Stephen Malkmus and The Fall high up there…I haven’t got those albums yet so will have to ask for a lend…) and Keef and Ell Greggo might have gone for a bit of Tyler, the Creator (I love ‘Yonkers’ but can’t bring myself to love the rest of the album…). Rox will no doubt be rocking out to the Deftones (actually that might’ve been last year…soz) and Jack is probs relaxing in the bath to Sade but WHO KNOWS. You’ll have to ask them…

I’m not gonna list the various TBOTB offshoot albums/side projects as it’s a bit unfair but both Rox’s album and The Retrospective Soundtrack Players LP were excellent. Go buy them both. Special mentions also go to The Horrors, Tom Waits, I Break Horses, Zun Zun Egui, Washed Out, Mogwai, Blood Orange and, of course, there’s loads more that escape my mind or that I haven’t really given enough time to. As always, being a skint musician (who DOESN’T ILLEGALLY DOWNLOAD) means I can’t afford a lot of the stuff that I want. Add to this the fact that i’m always catching up on the last 1000 odd years of music means that really, when it comes down to it…THIS LIST MEANS NOTHING. Still, it’s kept us both out of trouble for 10 mins and I feel like we’ve bonded. Do you?

While i’m here – i’m gonna do a gig list too. I’m feeling frivolous, footloose and fancy free!

15) Bob Dylan/Fionn Regan/Shane McGowan – Feis Festival, London

Bob’d be higher but I’ve seen him before, I was surrounded by 20,000 drunk Irish folk (both a plus and a minus…) and I left before the encore when he played ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, ‘All Along the Watchtower’ and ‘Blowin in the Wind’. Oops. Fionn played on a quiet acoustic stage about 10 metres from where The Waterboys were bellowing out ‘Whole of the Moon’ so I could only hear about 40% and Shane McGowan…well he’s Shane McGowan (again, both a positive and a negative…)

14) Beach House – Reykjavik Art Museum, Iceland Airwaves

I think just the fact that when I saw them support Grizzly Bear in Brighton last year they blew me away might’ve lessened the impact this time round. Still proper good though.

13) Andy Foster/Stealing Sheep – The Wedge, Southsea & Kinky Boot Beasts – The Cellars, Eastney

A tie here. Lovely stuff from both Mr Foster and the Sheep Stealers. Saw them supporting Emmy the Great. Who really wasn’t great. Kinky Boot Beasts played with Dave and myself’s other band Analogue Manilow. And really were great.

12) Howling Bells – The Wedge, Southsea

They didn’t play ‘Low Happening’. THE HEARTLESS BASTARDS.

11) Other Lives – KEX, Iceland Airwaves

Watched them soundcheck in a tiny little bar. Lovely.

10) The Walkmen – The Wedge, Southsea

We supported them. They were aloof and didn’t talk to us. I kind of liked it though. And they played ‘The Rat’. YOU HEAR THAT HOWLING BELLS??

9) Deerhunter – Shepherd Bush Empire. London

Lots of scenester tossers there. This would probably have placed higher were it not for them talking balls incessantly everywhere you turned.

8) Borko – Reykjavik Art Museum, Iceland Airwaves

‘Ding Dong Kingdom’. Nuff said.

7) Wild Beasts – Concorde 2, Brighton

‘WATCH ME! WATCH ME!’ This would’ve been top 3 but for some bizarre reason (a club night or something…) the curfew was 10pm on a Saturday night meaning they started at 8.30. Myself, Mrs W, Ell Greggo and Rhodesy arrived after much mulled wine at about 9 hoping to catch the end of support band Dutch Uncles only to be met with the Beast’s a quarter of the way through their set! D’oh! Still, we did then end up in, not one, but two gay night clubs so every cloud n’ that…

6) Clock Opera – The Wedge, Southsea Fest

Really want to see this band again as I had drunk a lot of brandy prior to this gig. I think it was very good…in fact i’m pretty sure it was…DAMN YOU BRANDY!

5) Retro Stefson – Reykjavik Art Museum, Iceland Airwaves

‘KIMBA! KIMBA!’ The liveliest folks I’ve seen since….I saw them a couple of years ago. Chirpy, funky and danceable are not words often associated with me but they’re infectious. Some of the other Bangers saw them play in a launderette or something too. I’ve been telling every Ron, Mick and Larry in Blighty about them ever since…

4) Roddy Woomble – The Point, Eastliegh

See my Album List. Worrying.

3) Donovan – Albert Hall, London

Played the whole ‘Sunshine Superman’ album with an orchestra. Then sat cross-legged and pretended it was still 1966. We got a free upgrade to one o’ them posh boxes. Noel Gallagher was next to us. It was a fun evening all round.

2) John Grant – Harpa, Iceland Airwaves

Bloody hell. I had a tear in my eye all the way through. As did Mrs W. Not just because of the Birthday shots of Cointreau either. Absolutely beautiful.

1) Bjork – Harpa, Iceland Airwaves

She’s only gone and done the double! Just 750 people there and in a stunning venue. I’ve been to a handful of gigs in my life that have been that outstanding. Made me want to give up. In a good way.

And that’s that. Again there’s probs loads of others that i’ve forgotten about so don’t shout at me too much. All in all though –  in a year where dosh has been tight, tight, tight and thus festivals and gigs have been few and far between for me, I’m happy to have seen and heard some absolutely awe-inspiring stuff. Now…back to TBOTB recording. FINALLY.

MERRY EASTER.

xxxx